Slice, dice and fold–Art Alliance, Pageant and Fleisher-Ollman

Natasha Bowdoin, I am the sun in the morning, I am a dog at night, 2006; cut cards and gouache on paper, 36 x 54 x 9 inches.
image courtesy the artist

And now for the medium of the season, cut paper!! Three exhibits exploring the limits of paper as a medium are ripping up the town– Paper[space] at the Philadelphia Art Alliance, Thanks to Mom and Dad/The Chain of the Worlds at Pageant Gallery, and a cleaner heart a do it at Fleisher-Ollman Gallery, which dips into paper along with some other work.

All three shows are worth the effort to get there in this sweltering heat!


I find myself wondering about the passion for paper. This work is mostly incredibly fragile. Are we at such a state that the long haul seems not worth worrying about? Or is it that compared to pixels, paper looks like a powerful material?

I am mostly stunned by the effort it takes to produce this work, the time spent cutting something that with a flick or a move can be destroyed. Yet it is bravura work, remarkable for the most part, with the amount of labor and delicacy of hand required.

Jin Lee, detail, White Landscape 2, 2007; paper, 56 x 72 inches.image courtesy the artist
Jin Lee, detail, White Landscape 2, 2007; paper, 56 x 72 inches.image courtesy the artist

Paper[space] at the Philadelphia Art Alliance is a wonderful show, with work from eight artists, some familiar to Philadelphia art lovers, some not. From Jin Lee‘s frothy cut-paper landscape installations (talk about delicacy and bravura cutting!) to Natasha Bowdoin’s powerful paper incantations which mix words and sculpture and magic, to Nami Yamamoto’s cool, glow-in-the-dark plant forms, this show pushes our expectations of paper in surprising ways. (I just want to say that the installation of Yamamoto’s piece in a dark room is the first time I’ve seen this work presented properly, and it’s a wow).


Sarah Julig, Untitled, 2007, paper and fishing line, dimensions variable.
image courtesy the artist

I also loved how Sarah Julig’s fold-up, torn improvisations resemble fold-up medusa jellyfish and humans on wobbly stilts. There’s a conversation going on between between Julig’s towers and Leslie Mutchler’s building system of standard building-block cards. They back-and-forth about portability and pack-and-go architecture seems just right for a time when Ikea furnishes our homes and people are nomadic, circling the globe looking for a better life.

Leslie Mutchler, Reconsidered, 2007; hand-recycled paper panels; variable dimensions. image courtesy the artist


In this context, Dawn Gavin’s map-inspired works make a lot of sense. Besides X-marks-the-spot map pins, she has excised backgrounds of maps to reveal the roads as a web for survival. Hunter Stabler’s psychedelic cut-paper tankas seem like the perfect escape from what’s happening here. Also in the exhibit, Donna Ruff makes lacy burnt pinhole drawings, many of which call to mind Rorschach tests and icons. The vitrine-like frames turn them into relics. I’d have liked them better laid bare, open on a shelf.

hunter stabler photo by fallon
Hunter Stabler, Saint Vitus Architeuthis Manalishi with the Seven Tentacled Crown, photo by Roberta

Stabler also has a solo show right now at Pageant Gallery, and his magical mystery tour of dreamy mandala-like images in cut paper this time also includes some equally dreant ink on paper works. The labor involved, either in cutting paper or in inking the negative spaces, looks daunting. Stabler’s work is nothing short of hallucinatory, and this is a show not to be missed! (More on Stabler here). The exhibit will be up until August 3).

Jennifer Levonian
Jennifer Levonian, still from Holy Donuts! video

And over at Fleisher-Ollman, there’s a changing of the guard, with Amy Adams taking over William Pym‘s spot (he moved to New York). Adams is the whirlwind who’s been executive director of Vox Populi since 2005 (plus she’s the second-in-command at the Esther Klein Gallery). (Anyone know some great art fundraiser out there to take over at Vox? Just saying…)

This show is from the Pym era. A cleaner heart a do it features work by Jennifer Levonian, Casey Watson, Matthew Rich, and Bill Walton. It’s another winner, and three of the four artists showing there are using paper in interesting ways.

fleisher ollman installation
a cleaner heart a do it installation shot showing work by Casey Watson (two pieces on the right), Matthew Rich (far left, large circle in back, and on floor to right rear), and Bill Walton (on floor in front and back wall two items on left)

Levonian, who showed previously in Street Button (see post), the gallery’s 2007-8 emerging artist exhibit (post on her work here), uses paper-doll-like cut-outs for her stop-action animations–vignettes that deliver the icons of the culture with a dollop of cheerful cynicism and a sharp eye for human behavior. In this one, a young girl survives the boredom and weirdness of a plein-air Sunday service by observing the parishioners as they eat doughnuts and then by transmogrifying the doughnuts into holy symbols. Levonian’s drawings are charming. The animation technique is witty and I’m a big fan. Levonian is also exhibiting some of the drawings from her process.

matthew rich
Matthew Rich, Ring, 2008, latex paint on cut paper, 51 x 53 inches

Casey Watson’s baroque ink-and-paper cutouts inspired by foliage and birds have an ecstatic lushness tempered by an almost casual presentation in which detailed drawings and collages float off kilter on the white page. Watson was one of the artists in F/O’s 2006-7 emerging artists show, Morgellons. Matthew Rich’s cut-paper collage paintings, multiply basic shapes, some of them to great effect, as in Ring, a sort of abstracted still life on steroids.

Also in this exhibit are some great chunky sculptures from Bill Walton, blocks of wood on the wall, concrete boxes on the floor, austere and mysterious poems of dense materials that suck the light and air into their cores. Walton’s work is not cut paper.